Local health department begins COVID-19 vaccine clinics, lack of federal help slows distribution

Two of the COVID-19 vaccines are seen at Dixie Regional Medical Center in St. George, Utah, on Dec. 16, 2020. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare

ST. GEORGE — The local health district has announced how it will be distributing the COVID-19 vaccine to the population of Southern Utah beyond healthcare workers at the local hospitals. At the same time, officials on the local and state level blamed the federal government for the slower-than-expected pace that vaccines have been provided locally and statewide.

The Moderna COVID-19 vaccine stored in a refrigerator at Riverton Hospital in Riverton, Utah, in late-December 2020. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

Starting immediately, the Southwest Utah Public Health Department is taking reservations for those working in non-hospital health care facilities to receive the vaccine in appointment windows over the next two weeks.

That includes those working at local health clinics, pharmacies, dentists and other medical offices. 

Meanwhile, the vaccinations of staff at local hospitals like Dixie Regional Medical Center and Cedar City Hospital is nearly complete, with Intermountain Healthcare saying Wednesday it expects to complete its staff vaccinations throughout its hospitals by Sunday.

David Heaton, spokesperson for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department, said the method being used to administer the vaccinations for the non-hospital health care workers will be the same used for most Southern Utahns. That will include K-12 staff and teachers, who will be next in line after the health care workers to receive the vaccine.

Rather than getting the vaccine through their school districts like they do flu shots, teachers and school staff will also utilize the online appointment/walk-in clinic procedure for the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’re doing online registration so we don’t have a crowd show up and run out to get the vaccine,” Heaton said. 

The exception will be in Beaver County, where a call-in appointment system at two Beaver County hospitals will be used. 

To sign up for a vaccine appointment slot and to find out where they will be administered in each county, see the end of the article. 

Besides the staff at hospitals, the one group that will be getting the vaccine from a source outside the local health department are staff and residents at long-term care facilities and nursing homes, which have been among the hardest hit for deaths and outbreaks during the pandemic. 

Photo illustration. | Photo by Ridofranz, iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

Long-term care facilities will be getting their vaccines through deliveries by CVS and Walgreens, as well as Community Nursing Services starting next week. Heaton estimated that by mid-January, most of the staff and residents at local long-term care facilities will be vaccinated.

Rich Lakin, immunization program manager for the Utah Department of Health, said 95% of residents in long-term care facilities and 68% of staff members have already signed up to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

At present, there are outbreaks in seven nursing homes in the St. George area, two in Cedar City and one in Panguitch. The worst outbreaks are at Spring Gardens of St. George and Brookdale Cedar City, which, according to the Utah Department of Health, each have 11 to 20 residents currently infected with the virus. 

According to the Utah Department of Health, the primary vaccine that will be provided locally will be the Moderna vaccine, which has a slightly better effective rate and is also easier to transport and store. The Pfizer vaccine, which was the first to be approved and provided to much of the staff of the hospitals, will be the secondary supply when the Moderna runs out.

Walgreens and CVS will provide the Pfizer vaccine to long-term care centers, while Community Nursing Services will be supplying the Moderna vaccine. 

The vaccine, whether it is the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, needs two doses within 21 days of each other, so those receiving the vaccine in the next two weeks will need to return for the second dose. 

A vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine seen in late-December 2020. | Photo courtesy of Intermountain Healthcare, St. George News

For non-hospital medical staff and pharmacy workers in Mesquite, Nevada, the Southern Nevada Health District will start vaccine clinics next week in Las Vegas by appointment through this link.

After teachers, who are expected to see their vaccine clinics on the week of January 25, the same procedure will be used for first responders, then all Southern Utahns 75 and over. The remaining local population will follow grouped by a yet to be determined order based on both age (older to younger), medical conditions and risk factors. 

The one group being left out at this point are those 18 and under, as Heaton said there is not yet a vaccine approved for that age group.

Heaton said the vaccine supplies were received by the Southwest Utah Public Health Department this week and are being stored in refrigeration at the department’s offices in each county until they’re administered.

He said the reason the vaccine isn’t just being distributed immediately is to coordinate an efficient method of getting the vaccine to “as many people as possible” without causing long lines or supplies running out before everyone in each group willing to receive the vaccine gets it. 

As of Wednesday, 9,875 doses of the vaccine have been shipped to Southern Utah, with 720 injections administered.

Lakin insisted vaccines won’t be sitting in refrigerators and freezers too long. 

“The last thing we want is (the) vaccine to go bad,” Lakin said. “Local health departments are efficient in this area.”

Heaton said the local health department is using lessons learned from a dry-run at the annual flu vaccine “shootout” in September. Along with using appointments, the indoor clinic will also utilize social distancing and a limited number of people per hour. 

“We found with this type of model works due to not worrying about the weather being indoors and spacing refined down to how lines will go and monitoring after injection,” Heaton said.  

Heaton added department staff, including Director Dr. David Blodgett, have not received their first dose of the vaccine but he also said they would be among the first.

“This will encourage people to get the vaccine and that it is safe,” he said.

The state department of health said Wednesday that local health departments were cleared to provide the vaccine to their staff on Dec. 21.

Slower than expected rollout

At the state level, Lakin acknowledged that the distribution of vaccines, previously expected to be at around 90,000 doses administered at this point, has been slower than expected. 

Rich Larkin, immunization program manager for the Utah Department of Health, seen during a teleconference on Dec. 30, 2020. | Screenshot, St. George News

From Dec. 14 to 27, there were 17,543 vaccine doses administered statewide. That picked up on Tuesday with 6,427 vaccines administered in one day. 

Larkin insisted the problem was at a higher level. 

“We have received less doses than we anticipated on the federal side … 40% less on the federal level,” Larkin said, adding that he expects the pace to continue to quicken with local health departments taking a bigger role in the next week.

Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases specialist at Intermountain Healthcare, said the White House’s Operation Warp Speed was efficient at creating the vaccine itself. States, including Utah, have been left to fend for themselves as far as vaccine supply and administration. 

There wasn’t any state funding from the federal government for vaccine rollout or guidance from the government for vaccine rollout,” he said.

That said, Stenehjem added while the vaccine has been made voluntary for most, if not all Utahns, the wide acceptance thus far bodes well for true herd immunity by the end of 2021.

“We could get to herd immunity by the fall if 70% of people are willing to be immunized,” Stenehjem said.

Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine

  • Currently, only for those that work in non-hospital health care facilities (those in clinics, pharmacies, dentists or other medical offices) can get the vaccine.
  • K-12 teachers and staff will come next at a later date, followed by first responders.
  • Must register in advance online for an appointment time (must call to register in Beaver County). Walk-ins will not be accepted.
  • Must have a personal ID, employment ID and wear a short-sleeve shirt at appointment.
  • Vaccines through the Southwest Utah Public Health Department are free of charge.

Washington County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department St. George office, 620 S 400 East, 2nd Floor Conference Room, St. George, 84770.

When: Monday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m; Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, Thursday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Click to register

Iron County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Cedar City office, 260 DL Sargent Dr., Cedar City, 84721.

When: Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Tuesday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m; Jan. 12, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Click to register

Kane County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Kanab office, 445 N. Main St., Kanab 84741.

When: Jan. 6, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Jan. 13, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Click to register

Garfield County:

Where: Southwest Utah Public Health Department Panguitch office, 601 Center St. Panguitch 84759.

When: Monday, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; Jan. 11, 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Click to register

Beaver County:

Where: Beaver Valley Hospital, 1109 N. 100 West St., Beaver 84713 or Milford Valley Memorial Hospital, 850 N. Main St., Milford 84751.

When: Call for appointment times.

Call Beaver Valley Hospital at (435) 438-7100  or Milford Valley Memorial Hospital at (435) 387-2411, ext. 6414 to make an appointment.

COVID-19 information resources

St. George News has made every effort to ensure the information in this story is accurate at the time it was written. However, as the situation and science surrounding the coronavirus continues to evolve, it’s possible that some data has changed.

Check the resources below for up-to-date information and resources.

Southern Utah coronavirus count (as of Dec. 30, 2020, seven-day average in parentheses)

Positive COVID-19 tests: 18,693 (208.6 new infections per day in seven days, rising since Dec. 28)

  • Washington County: 14,492 (153.9 per day, falling)
  • Iron County: 3,167 (36.4 per day, falling)
  • Kane County: 331 (2.0 per day, falling)
  • Garfield County: 308 (4.4 per day, rising)
  • Beaver County: 395 (11.9 per day, rising)

New infections for major Southern Utah cities (numbers released ahead of Southern Utah numbers):

  • NOTE: Numbers are two-day totals. (parenthesis indicates if rate is rising or falling)
  • St. George: 215 (rising)
  • Washington City: 76 (rising)
  • Hurricane/LaVerkin: 34 (falling)
  • Ivins City/Santa Clara: 40 (rising)
  • Cedar City: 81 (rising)

Deaths: 136 (0.9 per day, steady)

  • Washington County: 110 (3 new since Dec. 28 report: Long-term care male 65-84, hospitalized male 45-64, hospitalized male 65-84)
  • Iron County: 15 
  • Garfield County: 7 
  • Kane County: 2 (1 new: Hospitalized male 65-84)
  • Beaver County: 2

Hospitalized: 49 (falling)

Active cases: 7,217 (rising)

Current Utah seven-day average: 2,033 (rising)

Vaccines shipped to  Southern Utah: 9,875 (+2,550)

Number of initial vaccine injections in Southern Utah: 720 (+218)

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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